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RFID Makes Radiation Therapy Safer

Commonwealth Newburyport Cancer Center is tracking patients and their charts, to ensure they receive the proper treatment.
By Bob Violino
Jun 06, 2011—Radiation therapy can be an effective treatment for millions of cancer patients, but in recent years, there have been well-publicized cases of errors that resulted in serious injuries and deaths. Some of the most significant mistakes occurred because radiation therapists selected the wrong medical charts, resulting in patients receiving the incorrect treatments.

Commonwealth Newburyport Cancer Center, in Newburyport, Mass., which provides radiation therapy services to patients in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, says it follows rigorous clinical and safety criteria to ensure that it meets or exceeds the industry's highest standards for clinical quality, safety and patient care. As a result, the facility claims it has maintained an exceptional safety record over the years.

Upon walking into any of the clinic's procedure rooms, a patient is identified by an RFID reader.

Nevertheless, Commonwealth Newburyport was not satisfied with its bar-code process for patient identification and check-in. Managers were "well aware of its shortcomings, primarily that it requires manual intervention by the patient or a clinical team member, and is often intimidating or frustrating to an elderly patient," says Per Halvorsen, the VP of medical physics at Alliance Oncology, which owns and operates the cancer center. "We wanted a transparent, efficient technology for autonomously registering a patient's arrival to our clinic, and the patient's presence in our procedure rooms."

In September 2010, Commonwealth Newburyport implemented a first-of-its-kind RFID-based system designed to greatly improve patient safety and prevent dangerous treatment errors. Alliance Oncology partnered with Xecan, a Boston-based RFID technology provider, to integrate RFID into an oncology-specific electronic medical record (EMR) at the center. By automating the patient check-in process, treatment chart access and verification of treatment delivery, the RFID system ensures the center is delivering the correct treatment to the correct patient at every therapy session.

After evaluating offerings from different RFID vendors, Alliance Oncology selected Xecan to design and develop what is now known as the Xecan RFID Oncology Solution. Alliance was impressed with Xecan's commercial products and RFID expertise, as well as its ability to provide seamless integration of its system into Commonwealth's oncology EMR—from the reception area to treatment rooms—which Halvorsen says was critically important to the initiative. Members of Alliance's clinical team worked with Xecan's technicians to implement the system within a matter of months.
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